Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Greek & Hebraic Views of the Spirit

The Pneumatomachians were teaching that the Holy Spirit was not divine but only a creature or a ministering angel. In this context, St. Basil wrote a classic treatise on the Holy Spirit making use of the Greek concepts of his day. He described the Holy Spirit as “incorporeal” and “immaterial.” Immediately, this raises red flags for Lutherans who believe so strongly in the resurrection of the body. However, while St. Basil referred to the Holy Spirit as incorporeal and immaterial he still connected the Spirit to the person of Jesus Christ and His church. His confession of the Spirit as incorporeal did not cause him to deny the Spirit’s unity with the humanity of Christ or the people of God. In the 3rd Article of the Nicene Creed, the church, with the help of St. Basil, confesses: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.” This life-giving conception of the Spirit or breath is remarkably similar to the Hebraic concept here. Thus, what is important is not whether you use the Hebraic or Greek concept of the Spirit. What is important is how you use them.

Lutherans today are concerned with an over-spiritualizing of the Spirit that denies the hypostatic union of Christ, denies the sacramental presence of Christ in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, denies the resurrection of the body, and denies heaven as a material place. Concerning the hypostatic union it is important to confess with the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon the complete union of the divine and human natures in the one person of Christ. This also assumes the complete union of the Holy Spirit with the human nature of Christ. Through the incarnation we see that the Holy Spirit is not immune to material means for accomplishing His purposes. Rather, we see that the second person of the Trinity became a human being with real flesh and bones. At the same time He was the Bearer of the Spirit. God came down for us men and for our salvation. This incarnational framework sets the tone for our understanding of the sacraments. In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper our spirits do not ascend to God. Conversely, the resurrected Christ miraculously comes to us by the Spirit in the material waters of baptism, and in bread and wine. God the Holy Spirit uses these means to forgive us our sins and grant us life. If one separates the Holy Spirit from material means, the hypostatic union of Christ and the sacramental presence are not possible. Additionally, through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper man looks forward to a full resurrection of his body and a reunion of his body and spirit. If the Holy Spirit was immune to physical bodies, then we would have no hope of a reunion of our bodies with our spirits. Just as Christ was raised from the dead physically, so also Christians will be raised from the dead. So often we hear of Christians denying a future bodily resurrection and looking forward to a soul rest in heaven. This is sad! So much more awaits God’s children in the resurrection of the body! The intermediate state between our death and Advent of Christ is not our final destination. Rather, when Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, Christians will receive real and glorified bodies. Additionally, this physical creation will be renewed and restored. Our eschatological hope is not in something that is ethereal or insubstantial. Rather it will be a real place; our creation restored! Conceptions of the Spirit that deny the hypostatic union of Christ (Nestorius), deny the sacramental presence of Christ in the sacraments (Reformed), deny the resurrection of the body (Gnostics, Jesus Seminar and other Liberal Christians), and deny the materialness of heaven (Doug Pagitt) are harmful to the faith. In these situations, the Hebraic concept of the Spirit is definitely preferred.

When is it helpful to think of the Spirit as incorporeal? In St. Basil’s treatise on the Holy Spirit we see that he applies the Spirit as incorporeal in his exposition of John 4. In this situation it was helpful to conceive of the Spirit as incorporeal because the Samaritan woman was attempting to confine God’s presence to a place He had not confined it to. Jesus responded by saying that God is spirit, meaning he is not confined and limited to one place. In situations where people attempt to confine the activity of God to a place not ordained by Him, it is salutary to emphasize the Greek conception of the Spirit. For example, when the Churches of Christ (Boston Movement) teach that baptism in their church building is necessary for salvation they are limiting the Spirit’s work to their local building. Further, at the Roman Catholic Basilica in St. Louis it is written publicly that if one enters the basilica for worship on the same date on the calendar that the Pope visited the basilica in the past then that person will receive a plenary indulgence. This limits the Spirit’s work to a local basilica on a certain day (and it makes salvation dependent on following the shadow of the Pope)! With conceptions of the Spirit such as these that limit the Spirit’s presence to local buildings and locations, it is salutary to conceive of the Spirit as incorporeal.

If I had to give priority to the Hebrew or Greek conception of the Spirit, I would choose the Hebraic. First, our context is becoming increasingly more and more “spiritual.” Concepts like karma, meditation, and prayer are becoming more and more popular without connection to Jesus Christ. People want to be spiritual today, but they do not want to be connected to Christ and His Church. They are looking to be spiritual without the means of grace which give the Holy Spirit. People like to tap into the spiritual realm, but they better be careful they do not tap into the demonic realm. Second, I believe that the Hebraic concept does more justice to the narrative of Scripture. In Scripture our God uses means. He uses the body of Christ to redeem the world. He uses water to regenerate. He uses bread and wine to forgive people their sins. He will come again to raise all the dead and restore all of creation. Our hope is not in a place that is immaterial but in a place that is real and physical. However, what matters the most is not what conception of the Spirit one prefers. What matters is what a person does with their conception of the Spirit.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Make Disciples, Not Friends

Back when I was doing ministry in Arvada, Colorado, I met a young man named Ryan. He was a follower of Jesus Christ. He had friends inside the church. He also had friends who were not following Jesus. He felt great comfort when hanging out with believers. These were people who shared the same faith. They had the same worldview. They had the same way of life. Conversely, when it came to hanging out with non-believers, things were a little different. Ryan told me that when he spent time with his non-believing friends he felt like an “alien.” He felt different. He felt a lack of comfort. He felt weird. Further, he said that he had many opportunities to witness concerning his faith in Jesus Christ, but he did not take them. Why do you think Ryan did not take those opportunities? [Give people a chance to respond] The reason was that he was worried what their response would be. He thought things like, “Are they going to feel weird around me? Are they still going to want to hang out with me? Are they going to associate me with the religious right?”

I have lived and gotten to know believers in Arvada, Colorado; Seattle and Bremerton; Washington; and St. Louis, Missouri. It seems that wherever I go I meet Christians who identify with Ryan. Christians wonder, “What are my friends going to think of me when they find out I’m a Christian? Wouldn’t this relationship be smoother if I just didn’t say anything? If I tell them I’m a Christian, are they going to label me?” I want you to think about this for a moment with me. When we ask questions like this what are we revealing? Who is it that we are ultimately trying to please? We reveal that we are trying to please non-believers rather than please Christ. We are worried about what they are going to think of us, instead of being concerned about their eternal destiny. What are we afraid of? Could it be that we are afraid of being rejected? Maybe our fear of rejection is our problem.
As followers of Jesus Christ we believe in a man who was killed for the things He claimed. He told the first disciples that they would be hated in this world just as He was hated. And this is exactly what we see happen in the life of the first disciples. Early in their mission, the disciples Peter and John were arrested for their witness of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:3). This is recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter four. After they were released they came back to be with the rest of the disciples (4:23). When they all came back together they knew that persecution was on its way and they needed strength to continue. They knew that there would be opposition, threat, and danger whenever and wherever they testified to the person and work of Jesus Christ. So the first thing they did was pray for strength. The disciples prayed: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (4:29). The historian Luke then tells us what happened after they prayed: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31). Some of you may be thinking to yourselves: “I have a hard time witnessing to non-believers.” My question to you is: Have you prayed for the Holy Spirit to give you strength? The ability to witness to non-believers is not natural. It is supernatural and comes when you are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves, witnessing to non-believers is a very difficult task. You and I need the power of Holy Spirit to give us strength and boldness. After Jesus was raised from the dead, He said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). After witnessing the resurrection, the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit to witness boldly and fearlessly wherever and whenever opportunities presented themselves.

The title of this devotion that most likely caught you off guard today is Make Disciples, not Friends. Some of you may be thinking: “Now, we don’t want to turn people off do we?” No, but turning people off is better than not doing anything at all. The idea is this: perhaps we are so concerned with making friends, and with what other people are going to think about us, we forget our purpose in our relationships with non-believers. I think that you and I are becoming so timid that we are a long way from going overboard in the other direction. Are you concerned with what people are going to think? Or, are you concerned with making disciples? If making friends is an avenue to boldly witnessing, that is great! But if making friends is all we are concerned with, then are we not committing idolatry? Are we more concerned with worldly recognition than serving Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit was given to you when you were baptized into Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit lives in you today because of God’s grace. By the power of the Holy Spirit you and I are now called to pray to speak the word of God with boldness and fearlessness wherever and whenever the Lord gives us the opportunity. If we get rejected that is fine. That is what the Lord told us would happen more often than not. Take one for the team! Our rejection will still not be as bad as the first Christians who were painfully executed for their witness. So what if people think we are weird. We know who it is that we are trying to please. And we know where out eternal home is.

Jesus said that He could come back at any time. And when Jesus comes back there is not going to be another opportunity for non-believers to change their minds. So when we get the opportunity we need to ask non-believers challenging questions. In our post-Christian, post-modern context, telling people what to do is not received well. But can we challenge people by asking them questions? Asking people questions causes them to think. And I think that is one powerful approach. Another way to share our faith is to simply share what the Lord Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, has done in our lives. We live in a time where people highly value personal experience. If we tell people how the Lord Jesus Christ has saved and changed us, what can people say? This might be another way we can go about sharing. People are going to respond to us in different ways because everyone has a different experience and background. But we must be ready to respond to critics and skeptics. So that means we must be prepared and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

For this to happen we must repent of our idolatry of seeking recognition from this world instead of asking the Holy Spirit to give us boldness and strength. We know that our ultimate goal in life is not to simply to “be happy.” It is not to be liked. It is not to be free from conflict. But rather it is to serve Jesus Christ. So, now I’m going to ask you to bow your heads with me as we pray together. The only way we are going to be able to share our faith is if we ask Jesus for strength: Lord Jesus Christ, Giver of the Holy Spirit of power, we ask that you would grant to your servants the power to speak your word with all boldness. We pray that you would grant us repentance from our desire for people to simply like us. Rather, we pray that you would give us the words to challenge people. We pray that we would be living testimonies to the work you have accomplished in our lives. Fill us Lord with your Holy Spirit so that we can speak your word with boldness. Amen.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Salvation by Works in the Late Middle Ages

One reason theologians in the late Middle Ages could teach that salvation was at least in part by works is because they assumed that justification occurred by infused love (caritas). This theological assumption will be explored in the areas of soteriology, epistemology, and hermeneutics respectively.

In the area of soteriology, it was assumed in the late Middle Ages that justification occurred by infused love and happened from within (intra nos). This is due to the theological framework for the doctrine of justification put forth by Augustine. Augustine taught that the grace of Jesus Christ justified a person when love was poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit. While Augustine’s doctrine of justification was grace-centered, it happened from within (intra nos) and naturally led to man’s greater or lesser ability to make use of the love that was given. Therefore, it did not matter whether one believed the love that was poured into a person’s heart was the Holy Spirit (Lombard) or a created habit of the soul (Aquinas). In the end, man still had to make use of this infused love throughout his life. If a person was struggling with sin, it was due to the fact that he was not making use of the love that was given to him (Aquinas). And if a person was progressing in virtue, it was due to him making use of the love given to him. Because justification was assumed to be a gradual process that occurs from within, it naturally included man’s greater or lesser ability to use this love in order to merit salvation.

It was not possible for theologians in the late Middle Ages to teach justification by faith alone. Faith alone, or “unformed faith” (fides informata) was simply intellectual assent to the truth of historical events. Only when this faith was infused with love (caritas) was a person justified. Love was something that man did in order to keep God’s Moral Law. If a person was justified by infused love, then he was justified by keeping the Moral Law and not by trusting in Christ alone. This naturally included a person’s works. Therefore, the assumption that justification occurred by infused love and not by unformed faith naturally led to salvation by works.

Further, what happened when a person who was not a believer in Christ loved their neighbor and did good deeds? If love and good deeds are the demonstration of salvation, then how can one say that a person who loves their neighbor cannot be saved? This question forced theologians like Ockham to say that the church, which dispenses infused love, must not be a primary cause for salvation. If non-believers loved their neighbor without the church then the church must not be absolutely necessary for salvation. Biel, who was influenced by Ockham, put forth a theological framework for how this salvation could occur. He taught that non-believers “who do what is in them God does not deny grace.” Like Ockham, he taught that a person could be saved without the church. If love was the demonstration of a person’s salvation, and non-believers loved their neighbor, then non-believers must have potential for salvation. The doctrine of justification by infused love focuses on a person’s goodness and deeds rather than on trust in the person and finished work of Christ. This focus on love led to speculation when considering non-believers who loved and did good works. It put justification in the hands of man’s ability to love as opposed to God’s unconditional grace through the person and complete work of Jesus Christ.

In the area of epistemology, Thomas Aquinas attempted to perceive and explain the invisible things of God from what was visible. What was visible to man and seemed good to man was justice, acts of love, and virtue. If man was not doing these things he was not making use of the love (caritas) given to him. Aquinas did not take into account that even when man does acts of love his motives are impure. Rather, he believed that through practice man could excel in acts of love and merit salvation. His epistemology did not take into account the depth of human sin. Rather, Aquinas thought that sin in man was his inability to make use of infused love (caritas) and do good deeds. The problem of man was not unbelief—it was simply that man was not training himself to become a better person. Aquinas could not recognize that in the crucifixion of Christ all of man’s best works were condemned as deadly sins. Trust in the death of Christ was not enough for salvation. Rather, Aquinas believed that through receiving grace through the sacraments a person could train himself in virtue and merit eternal life. Consequently, the Final Judgment was based in part on how well a person progressed in acts of love. A person’s “not guilty” verdict was not declared by trust alone in the finished work of Christ. Rather, a person received a “not guilty” verdict at the Final Judgment if their progress in love was worthy of eternal life. This epistemology led to salvation being at least in part based on works.

In the area of hermeneutics it was assumed that the Gospel was a New Law which included a person’s ability to love. This was due to at least a few factors. First, Marcion, a second century heretic, considered the Old Testament god to be an evil god and the New Testament god to be a good god. He dualistically separated the Old Testament Law from the New Testament Gospel. Orthodox theologians such as Ireneaus and Tertullian condemned Marcion as a heretic because of his separation of Law and Gospel. Second, “works of the law” in Paul’s Epistle’s were assumed to only refer to the Ceremonial Law and not the Moral Law. If a person was justified by faith and not the Ceremonial Law, that left open the possibility that a person could be justified by faith and keeping the Moral Law. Justification by faith and keeping the Moral Law was considered to be a part of the Gospel. And if the Gospel included keeping the Moral Law, then the Gospel was a New Law. And if the Gospel was a New Law there was no distinction between Law and Gospel. And without the distinction between Law and Gospel it was impossible to exclude a person’s works from the doctrine of salvation.

Connected to these hermeneutical assumptions was the doctrine of justification by infused love. If justification was by infused love, the distinction between Law and Gospel was impossible. The heart of God’s Moral Law is to love God and love people. If a person was justified by their ability to keep God’s Moral Law this naturally includes a person’s works. By improperly separating Law and Gospel, Marcion hindered theologians throughout church history from distinguishing them properly. Further, by not recognizing that “works of the law” referred to the Moral Law, theologians assumed that the Gospel included keeping the Moral Law.

A good example of the Scholastics’ (via moderna) understanding of the Gospel as a New Law is found in their interpretation of the story of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus in Matthew 19:16-22. The rich man asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by instructing him to keep the commandments. Since the Gospel was seen to be a New Law, the via moderna school was unable to see that Jesus was using the Law to show the rich man his sin. The rich man responded by saying that he had kept all the Ten Commandments. Jesus then responded by challenging him to keep the first commandment when he told him to sell all that he had and give to the poor. He was challenging the rich man’s sin of idolatry and his love for money. If a person cannot keep the first commandment, he is unable to keep the rest of the commandments. The via moderna school was unable to see this and concluded that poverty was necessary for perfection in addition to keeping the Ten Commandments. The Scholastics could not see that the Law was being used to show the rich man his sin. Conversely, they assumed they could keep the Law because they saw the Gospel as a New Law. Their understanding of the Gospel as a New Law naturally led to a person’s works as part of the doctrine of salvation.

The doctrine of justification by infused love naturally included a person’s works in the salvation equation. It put the soteriological framework from the perspective of what occurs within a man (intra nos) which included man’s greater or lesser ability to make use of infused love (caritas). Further, justification by infused love focused on a person’s goodness and deeds rather than on the finished work of Christ and the necessity of hearing and believing the promise of forgiveness. This led to all kinds of speculations about non-believers who were not connected to the church but were good people who loved their neighbor. Epistemologically, justification by infused love did not focus on the crucifixion of Christ, which showed man that all his best works were condemned as deadly sins. Rather, it caused man to be puffed up and did not lead him to humility under the cross of Christ. Hermeneutically, justification by infused love also damaged the theologians’ ability to distinguish between Law and Gospel. According to this view, a person’s ability to love was his response to God’s Law. Conversely, faith is trust in the promise of the Gospel which gives certainty of salvation. If a theologian is unable to distinguish between Law and Gospel he will naturally include works as a contributing factor to salvation. The Scholastics focused on this infused ability to love God and neighbor. The true Gospel, however, focuses not on man’s love but on the love of Jesus Christ for depraved sinners.